CAJE executive director looks to define agency’s future

BY MIKE SHERWIN, ASSISTANT EDITOR

For Central Agency for Jewish Education executive director Sonia Dobinsky, the main change in the shift from interim to full-time leader is that now she can focus her attention on the long-term goals and overall direction of the agency.

After just under a year of heading CAJE on an interim basis, Dobinsky was appointed as the agency’s full-time executive director in a unanimous vote by the CAJE Board of Directors at its September meeting, said Linda Kraus, board president.

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Dobinsky has served as interim executive director of CAJE since Oct. 1, 2006, after the departure of former executive director Jeffrey Lasday. She has worked as a staff member of CAJE since 1998, and prior to that, was a consultant for the agency for three years.

Kraus said a CAJE search committee, chaired by Paul Flotken and Maurice Guller, conducted a national search. In May the board offered the position to a different candidate, but the candidate did not end up taking the post.

Dobinsky did not apply for the position until July 2007. She said she initially decided not to apply because she wanted the agency to conduct the search for executive director with an open mind.

“In a transition time, it’s a good opportunity for the agency to assess its needs and I felt very strongly that the agency needed to find the best person for the job and really keep options open,” Dobinsky said.

Kraus said Dobinsky went through the same process as all other candidates during the search, which included interviews with constituent groups of rabbis, educators and members of the search committee.

“She was unanimously recommended by all of the groups to be our executive director,” Kraus said. After receiving positive feedback from the constituent groups, the search committee recommended Dobinsky to the CAJE executive committee, which also gave a unanimous recommendation. In September, the entire CAJE board also gave unanimous approval of Dobinsky as executive director, Kraus said.

“We are so pleased that she put her name forward and that she accepted the position of executive director,” Kraus said, noting that the board was very impressed with Dobinsky’s performance over the past year as interim executive director.

“Whereas some interim directors feel their position is just to keep things on an even keel and hold it together until the permanent person comes on board, Sonia felt that her job was to help the agency move forward, and she has done an outstanding job,” Kraus said.

Dobinsky said she has received an outpouring of support from the community.

“It’s been very gratifying,” she said. “I’m encouraged by the support I have gotten from a variety of people in the community — from rabbis, to people in the Federation, lay people, to my board. And the staff has been wonderful and very supportive,” she said.

“When you shift from interim to full-time, you really have a lot of goals ahead of you that need to be accomplished, instead of just holding the agency together,” she said. “I feel a huge responsibility…I am excited and thrilled by the opportunities for expansion and change, and for doing a great job for the community.”

Kraus noted that Dobinsky played a key role in the strategic planning process, which will restructure CAJE programming over the next year, phasing out CAJE administration of the Jewish Community Hebrew School and Jewish Community High School, and bolstering teacher training and congregational grant-giving programs.

Dobinsky said that her immediate goals for the agency are to successfully transition the community Hebrew schools, to continue to improve teacher training programs and to look for new ways for the agency to integrate technology and learning.

“We’re looking at really taking the agency into the 21st century in terms of technology and getting schools up and running in terms of technology,” she said. “I think the wave of the future is really going to be in ways that we can connect students and teachers in both a face-to-face way and in an electronic way.”

Dobinsky said that although CAJE, like other organizations in the Jewish community, faces challenges, she believes CAJE is adapting and working to best benefit the community.

“This agency is moving,” Dobinsky said. “We’re an agency that is 35 years old, and we are going to take it into the future…I’m excited about the opportunity to focus our agency a little differently but to respect the history that has gotten us here.”

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